This past December, a 4,000-word short story took the internet by storm when it was published in The New Yorker. The story is titled Cat Person, and details the trials of twenty-year-old college student Margot as she meets and briefly dates thirty-four-year-old Robert.
The all-too-realistic piece of fiction showcases Margot throughout the many quick-changing stages of a blooming, new relationship: the excitement, the giddiness, the butterflies of a growing new crush, the fantasies about everything this relationship could possibly grow into, all the way through unto the grounding realization that this person is not at all who you’d hoped they were.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD***
The rose colored glasses always begin to fade, and, when they do, Margot realizes Robert is not someone she wants to see. And, by the time everything’s progressed to their first (and only) sexual encounter, Margot’s already realized that she’s not at all attracted to this stranger of a man. She feels repulsion towards him, but doesn’t know how to stop, seeing as sex has already been initiated and they are well in the midst of it all. Margot allows her mind to drift off so she can “just get it over with” while Robert does what he wants until he’s finished:
…she felt like a doll again, as she had outside the 7-Eleven, though not a precious one now—a doll made of rubber, flexible and resilient, a prop for the movie that was playing in his head.
She ends their relationship shortly after, telling Robert she’s not interested and asking him to stop texting her. The story ends months down the line when Robert gets drunk at Margot’s go-to bar, then spends the remainder of night verbally harassing her via text messages, starting with:
“Hi Margot, I saw you out at the bar tonight. I know you said not to text you but I just wanted to say you looked really pretty. I hope you’re doing well!”
“I know I shouldnt say this but I really miss you”
And quickly escalating to and ending with:
This story spoke to millions of women of all ages who couldn’t help but see themselves in Margot. The societal expectations placed upon women and girls to always be appeasing, to never come across as difficult, and to never anger or upset the man you are in bed with are an unmanageable weight to bear. This story spread to such immense popularity because it worked to shine a light on the ways in which we are taught that consent always looks like x, y, or z. And that, if you agreed to the encounter initially, there’s no backing out; we are taught to believe that you cannot revoke your yes.
I don’t think I, personally, know any women (myself, included) who haven’t been in this exact situation multiple times over the years. Nights that end this way always feel like they’re surrounded by this foggy cloud of discomfort, fear, disappointment, dissociation, and disgust (both with them and with yourself). It’s scary to be alone with someone you don’t know very well, and feel just completely stuck inside their house with no real way out. You never want to be rude by asking to leave, and you also don’t want to anger them for fear of how they might react.
It’s the sort of situation where your heart races and your palms sweat and you feel yourself quickly weighing out all of your options until you, eventually, decide that, well, it’s already pretty late and, if you just stick it out until morning, you can go home and shower and pretend it never happened. This way, you avoid any awkward or scary confrontations, and ensure they’re feelings remain unhurt while you just mime your way through the rest of the evening; letting your thoughts wander somewhere else, to some far-off place until it’s all, finally, over. (It doesn’t even have to be a stranger from some Tinder date; we can all-too-often find ourselves ignoring uncomfortable or coercive behavior from people we are already in committed relationships with, allowing them to do what they want under the guise of being in love and being too afraid to rock the boat.)
This situation is such a commonality within the dating-sphere, it’s no surprise that author Kristen Roupenian drew from her own personal, real-life experiences to create this story. Roupenian spoke to The Times earlier this week, opening up about her own Cat Person for the very first time.
It all started when Roupenian, who had spent many years in a long-term committed relationship, found herself single at thirty-five for the first time since she was in her twenties:
When I was 26 and dating, I was such a mess and everything was terrible. I thought now I would be a mature adult and wouldn’t screw up and would understand when people are garbage right away. But instead I felt just as smacked by it and just as confused…I went on a date, it went poorly, and we got in a fight. And that’s alright, but I thought, ‘I’m 35, how did I make this mistake? How did I misread someone so completely?
The story grew to success seemingly overnight, and resulted in Roupenian landing a two-book deal with Scout Press, including a collection of short-stories set to release in 2019 and a currently untitled novel.
The success was by no accident, however. The story resonated, and still resonates, with people across the board.
Dating is never as easy as any of us hope it’s going to be. And, it can be difficult when you’re meeting all of these people to not feel tired of it all, and just ready to settle down with the next semi-charming, borderline-compatible adult human you stumble across. But, once you’ve already begun to force a connection with someone and convince yourself of it’s sustainability, it can be nearly impossible to come to terms with how you genuinely feel, walk out, and leave the situation behind you.
Roupenian went on to tell the Times about her own views surrounding the dating culture our society has built:
I think that young women in particular feel they have to manage and control and soothe and charm and weave this magic around men…The truth is, most people are not the right person for you, and the person who is the right person for you will still not be a perfect human being.
Since the Cat Person publication, Roupenian has learned she was never really alone in this thinking. Women all over have shared their own stories of uncomfortable dates that have ended in aggression, shame, and coercion.
I only hope that, now that a light has been shone on the aspects of dating and consent that before we had only ever been told to deal with and ignore, we can finally begin to see a shift in what we do and do not consider normal, healthy, and okay.
In the meantime, we can continue sharing our stories. We can acknowledge and find comfort in the autonomy of our own bodies, and the fact that no one, no matter what their previous relationship to us may be, is allowed to steal that from us. We can refuse to accept the things that feel uncomfortable, scary, or harmful, and not feel any embarrassment, guilt, or shame in vocalizing that. We can understand and accept our own imperfect humanness, and work on erasing both our desire to mold and shift others’ views of us and our impossible desire to never disappoint.
We can keep standing up and speaking out.
Featured Image via Sykesville Veterinary Clinic